Ashley Seagar is a lying toad, isn\’t he?

About how wonderful renewables are:

And solar is starting to pay its subsidy back. Germany now has more than 30 gigaWatt peak (gWp) of solar plants installed, such that on almost all days in the spring, summer and autumn, solar energy surges into the grid at a time when demand is at is strongest (air conditioning etc is running like mad)

AC in Germany?  Is he visiting a different one from the one I am? And don\’t the Germans actually have to dump a lot of that solar derived power into hte grids of neighbouring countries? \’Coz, like, no one is using it when it\’s there?

But this is seriously fabulous:

This brings me on to a really exciting development . Our company is starting to sell power directly from the barn roofs we have our plants on to the farmers who own the roofs and nearby towns wishing to rescue themselves from the grasp of the RWEs and E.ONs of this world.

Why? Because we can produce power at around half of what farmers are paying.

This so-called \”distributed\” (ie non-grid) energy is where the real revolution is taking place. Distributed energy not only saves on the huge amount of energy lost in grid distribution, but it helps lighten the load on the grid. Whole German towns are going completely renewable. The citizens get cheaper, cleaner power. If only Britain would get this.

Well of course you sodding mingelip.

Because the subsidy to pay for all that wind and solar power is an addition to the bill for the electricity that you get through the grid. Thus, if you don\’t take grid provided \’leccy then you\’re not paying the subsidy that keeps Mr. Seagar\’s company in business.

And amazingly, yes, electricity is cheaper if you don\’t have to pay the subsidies to solar and wind power on it.

28 thoughts on “Ashley Seagar is a lying toad, isn\’t he?”

  1. Just out of interest, what are the uses of solar and its variable amount of power (and no, having lots of big batteries don’t count). Is there something you can make where the power running low for an hour and then starting again are OK?

    Tim adds: In industry it’s generally a complete disaster. Wrecks the machinery, let alone what you’re trying to make. German companies are spending fortunes installing their own generation and rectification equipment.

    Even mild variations in current can kill processes.

  2. What’s fascinating about so many of these type of Guardian articles is that within 10 minutes of them being published there are a number of comments below-the-line from people who clearly understand the subject producing decent, well-referenced rebuttals.

    And yet you can guarantee a similar article will appear in two weeks time.

  3. Just out of interest, what are the uses of solar and its variable amount of power,

    The one usually quoted is making hydrogen by electrolysis. It is also possible, in hot dry countries, to make fresh water from seawater by forced osmosis.

    The problem with all these, unnoticed by Guardian readers who are not, on the whole, business people, is that you have the capital cost of building the whole plant which you can only amortise some of the time (when the sun is shining). So the unit cost inevitably goes up. A lot.

    That thread is worrying for the amount of ignorance of simple economics (e.g. let’s built lots of storage systems, or interconnects, both of which cost billions instead of a gas generation plant costing a few hundreds of millions and, if you must, a few million trees costing peanuts) amongst people who are influential on the idiots at DECC.

  4. Solar isn’t that bad, or at least not as bad as wind. It comes on durng the day when we need it, although we get about four times as much in the summer than in the winter. And it is fairly reliable, despite cloudy days. It is expensive but the price of new equipment is falling rapidly, and in 5-10 years it should be easonably priced.
    Wind on the other hand is a complete disaster. Won’t ge any cheaper, couldn’t produce all we need if we filled the country side with the things and produces 25% of its electricity when you need it least.

  5. >Is there something you can make where the power running low for an hour and then starting again are OK?

    Not in manufacturing unless there are no moving parts, and it doesn’t need a heavy capital investment.

    Far more suited for eg heating and hot water with well-built buildings – typically you can turn the floor slab into an insulated heat sink than can store heat for a week, a month or longer.

    Solar is far better than wind. No moving parts.

  6. There is a sub plot by the EU and DECC to move from generating companies ensuring that they have the capacity to meet demand to something called demand regulation. Rationing to the more astute amongst us.

    DEFRA, in their report “Delivering the Benefits of Smart Appliances SPMT10_043 Final Report to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs of September 2011” stated: “No longer is it considered viable for electricity to be provided ‘on demand’ in response to the requirements of end-users.”

    The European electricity group ENTSO (European Network of Transmission System Operators) has designed a system based on the frequency of the electricity generated, which is defined as “Low Frequency Demand Disconnection (LFDD). If the frequency is reduced below a certain level then the appliances switch off. ENTSO is telling the EU commission that the best way to secure the necessary number of appliances is to make fitting chips “a mandatory requirement for a pre-defined list of devices”.

    Last week MIT (I think) successfully managed to reverse the power flow from electric cars whilst on charge. i.e. if the companies find they are short on available power supply – especially on a cold winter morning – they will be able to drain the batteries of your electric car in order that you can make your porridge.

    Oh and smart grids and smart meters will be of the greatest assistance in this demand regulation. Think about it.

  7. Dizzy>

    Some of that stuff seems worryingly invasive, since the government’s likely to fuck it up, but in principle it’s a perfectly reasonable idea. Moving demand a few minutes one way or the other can really help smooth out usage patterns. A lot of the power we use needs to be there right away, but there’s also a lot that doesn’t.

    One of my favourite examples is a closed fridge. Maybe once an hour it’ll fire up the compressor for a minute or two to top up the coolant reserves. Does it matter whether it does that at the top of the hour, or at five past (assuming you didn’t open the door at any point)? Clearly not. If running the fridge compressor coincides with the end-of-Corrie kettle-boiling, is there any reason not to either bring it forwards five minutes, or push it back five minutes? Clearly not.

  8. There is one very simple application – running the air conditioning systems where demand rises and falls as Solar PV generation rises and falls.
    Otherwise you can use it as one component in a multi-source system with reliable back-up from hydro and gas (nuclear as core base load).
    Since Dinorwic pumps upstream at night and flows down during daytime, one can be fairly sure UK uses more electricity during the day than the night so Solar, unlike wind, could reduce the total fossil-fuel capacity required.
    Another advantage is reduction in transmission losses if power is generated close to the user (one part in three of the reason why solar PV is economic in Southern California – the other two being the administrative costs and profits of the power generator and local distributor).

  9. Dizzy,

    “Oh and smart grids and smart meters will be of the greatest assistance in this demand regulation. Think about it.”

    Something like this use to existing in NZ. The power company could turn off all hot water cylinders when demand was high, ripple control it was called. That was during the oil crises of the 70’s. NZ homes usually don’t have any kind of central heating, the hot water would have been the biggest consumer they could control directly.

    Of course the DEFRA change is simply the usual government trick of dealing with a difficult problem, just change the rules to make it no longer a requirement.

  10. “Is there something you can make where the power running low for an hour and then starting again are OK?”

    Just occurred to me: data processing. Data centres are increasingly becoming significant power-consumers. PCs generally, the same.

    I was thinking about how this could all work in practice, because the idea itself – shifting load through time via pricing – is good. What we need is a two-rate system, where every consumer gets the option to only take cheap electricity when it’s available, or take electricity whenever they need it, at whatever rate it’s going for. The appliances can then do whatever they’re programmed to do, so a fridge might postpone running the compressor when the rate is high, or use the higher-priced electricity anyway because the door was left open and the food is getting warm.

    Basically, we now have the technology to start pricing electricity according to the relationship between supply and demand.

  11. typically you can turn the floor slab into an insulated heat sink than can store heat for a week, a month or longer.”

    Might interest you to know, the high thermal capacity of a floor would store a lot of heat is the complete opposite of what the environmentalists insist be built. Floors that insulate for heat & sound transmission & have low thermal capacity. Because the two are opposites. High thermal capacity = dense. Insulating=low density. In the physics. So the ‘slab’ floors you’re thinking go into habitable buildings are largely a honeycomb of voids & lightweight materials. As opposed to the solid concrete slabs used in industrial buildings to support heavy machinery.
    So, unless you’re recommending replacing the entirety of the building stock with constructions costing twice as much because of the enormously increased weight imposed, forget it.

  12. @Dave
    You are using the “time shift” argument. It only works if you have a reliable but cyclical energy input/output you can redistribute to balance. The problem with renewables is the input isn’t reliable. You can very rapidly run out of anywhen to time shift to, All users are timeshifting. In your fridge example, all the fridges have postponed their cooling cycle so their isn’t a low use period. All of the fridges now need electricity.

  13. Yes it would all be sensible if we lived in a rational world. But there is no need for any of this energy rationing since there is plenty of fuel to produce electricity.

    “As any fule no”, if the price of energy rises then we will all take measures to reduce our consumption – basic economics as Tim would expound to us. However the Greenies are intent on increasing fuel bills and “deindustrialising” the West in order to follow totally fallacious theories. In fact one MD of a utility has already said that smart grids will be able to cut off your supply if you are using too much electricity.

    Frankly, logic and common-sense fly out the window where greens and politicians are concerned.

  14. BiS>

    I wasn’t really talking about it in the context of renewables, so much as it being something that would be pretty handy with our current system. We’re pretty good at demand prediction, by and large, but we’d be even better at it if we could effectively induce short-term postponements of demand here and there as required to smooth out spikes.

  15. The German solar industry is going bust as it is undercut by the Chinese.

    The mania for renewables including the crackpot decision to close down nuclear, had lead to the Germans paying very high subsidy festooned, electricity bills. 600,000 are said to be in fuel poverty.

    And to solve the problem? The Germans are now engaged in a Chines style coal fired generator buiding programme. US Coal has become cheap as a result of the shale gas boom.

    What are we doing? In effect paying Drax a vast sum to ship wood pellets from the US to replace two of its cold fired boilers.

    We have the idiotic “carbon floor” which will be 15 times more than the fraudulent EU carbon market, and will saddle industry with much higher energy bills.

    And so it goes on.

    Paul

  16. Dave,

    Just occurred to me: data processing. Data centres are increasingly becoming significant power-consumers. PCs generally, the same.

    I’ll go with “possibly” on that. Firstly, you can’t go running a webserver on time-shifting. But something like a business that needs to generate PDF bills (that’s quite intensive, but can accept a delay), sure, you can do it.

    The downside is startup and shutdown time and whether fluctuations would be acceptable. Running up even a small, virtual server takes maybe a minute or two on Amazon EC2. Physical, even longer.

  17. Tim>

    Well, we’re not quite set up for it at the moment, but it wouldn’t be hard to implement. At the moment no-one’s thinking about it at all, so there are at least some low-hanging fruit to pluck.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve plenty of experience with systems that are set up to do batch-jobs hourly, or similar. The minute past the hour at which they run isn’t usually chosen for any reason, and commonly they start on the hour because that’s the obvious choice. A colleague recently sorted out some performance issues for a medium-sized company which were caused by them running all their batch-jobs at the same time, rather than spacing them out. All he did was set them to start at 15 minute intervals instead of on the hour. Extrapolate that kind of carelessness across a whole country, then double the volume a few dozen times over the next few decades, and you’re looking at a significant power-spike.

    I hadn’t really thought of it before, but I must ask someone who works in a datacentre whether they get significant hourly power spikes at the moment.

  18. So Much For Subtlety

    Dave – “Just occurred to me: data processing. Data centres are increasingly becoming significant power-consumers. PCs generally, the same.”

    It would probably be more sensible to move the data processing centre. People are building them in places like Alaska. So they can dump their heat into the environment. I would think that Norway or Canada would be good places for this. Plenty of cheap hydroelectricity. Half the year the computers would struggle to over heat even if you wanted them to.

    Does location matter that much for the physical location of the data centre? And cooling is a major user of power.

    I was thinking about how this could all work in practice, because the idea itself [] shifting load through time via pricing [] is good. What we need is a two-rate system, where every consumer gets the option to only take cheap electricity when it-s available, or take electricity whenever they need it, at whatever rate it’s going for.

    Some systems do this already – water heaters for instance have a two-time switch for off peak and peak power. But even better would be to have a small computer in your home monitor demand. Just like the power company does. It can then prioritise all the devices in your home. You tell them how important your printer-s power supply is compared with your fridge-s. It then looks at demand going up and down and when it is down, everything is turned on; when it is up it starts to drop the least valuable contributors.

    It should be simple enough to do.

    12bloke in spain – “Might interest you to know, the high thermal capacity of a floor would store a lot of heat is the complete opposite of what the environmentalists insist be built.”

    So we just have to tell the Greenies to shut up and to do the opposite of what they want. No surprises there.

    I am thinking of a new place and I want a large concrete slab. But I want heating pipes to run through it and a small heat pump to move heat to and from the ground. This should not be that hard to do. It is harder than you think to find someone willing to do it. But that would be a good use for solar. Especially for someone in a hot climate who wanted cooling.

    14Dizzy Ringo – “In fact one MD of a utility has already said that smart grids will be able to cut off your supply if you are using too much electricity.”

    I have relatives Down Under and their power company nicely asked them to let them know if they had an air conditioner – peak demand in summer sometimes causes the system to fall over. I told them not to be idiotic by reporting themselves. Obviously the sole purpose is so that they can cut people off.

    16Paul Maynard – “And so it goes on.”

    Until it doesn-t any more. My investment advice usually revolves around canned food and shotguns, but I think it is time to invest in hempen rope as well.

  19. One of my favourite examples is a closed fridge. Maybe once an hour it’ll fire up the compressor for a minute or two to top up the coolant reserves. Does it matter whether it does that at the top of the hour, or at five past (assuming you didn’t open the door at any point)?

    It does. The fridge works on a thermostat, if you can wait another 5 minutes before firing up the compressor then the thermostat is set wrongly. I can see what you’re saying, but in effect you’re raising the maximum temperature you want your fridge to operate at.

  20. Does location matter that much for the physical location of the data centre? And cooling is a major user of power.

    It does for some applications but not all. If you need low latency then the data centre needs to be close. It takes about a third of a second for a packet to go around the world, so data centres in Canada are no good for Australians who need less latency than that. But for applications where bandwidth is more important than latency, then bury the data center in a glacier for sure.

  21. At SMFS
    If you wanted to put a heat reservoir under a building you could do a lot worse than incorporate large volume water tanks. Water has high thermal capacity & it’s much easier to get the heat in & out. Can’t see any particular reason it would infringe building regs, because I know people who’ve put swimming pools under houses & what was required, but you’d need to consider chemical treatment to prevent bacterial build-up.

    And apologies to Matt Wardman above. For some peculiar reason I’d taken him to mean floor slabs in multi floored dwellings. Probably as a result of a long discussion with a neighbour about why he can’t stick a bloody great jacuzzi in his fourth floor apartment without worrying about floor loadings.

  22. Dave,

    But, as processors have become more powerful, we’ve reduced our use of batch processing. I used to have an “every 15 minutes” PDF generator. It’s now a background service, continually running, polling the DB for new requests and generating the PDF, and an AJAX UI checking the status. Which means that normally the user has their PDF back within a few seconds.

  23. It takes about a third of a second for a packet to go around the world, so data centres in Canada are no good for Australians who need less latency than that.

    From what I’m discovering about the internet in Australia, provided you get a response within the hour it is considered fast and attracts a fee of $299 per month.

  24. Incidentally, back when I was living in Sakhalin I built a gaming computer and overclocked it beyond what was considered possible. The issue, as always, is how to keep it cooled and you could spend hundreds of squids on fans, water cooling, heat sinks, etc. in order to extract the last few Hz out of your processor. I solved the problem by sticking it on the window sill and opening the window, the temperature never even got above normal!

  25. Strange, I thought the Grauniad got sniffy about blatant corporate plugs masquerading as news or comment. Times are a changing at Pol Pot Towers?

  26. Ashley Seager (if you’re going to insult him at least spell his name right ) will always be famous for his eloquent advocacy of LVT in the Guardian,and being right on that issue leads one to expect he is right on solar power also. If ,as he says , costs are coming down, it would be wise to protect an infant industry with subsidies. Such a pity we don’t have a nationalised energy industry where the costs could be met with cross-subsidy from the bread and butter domestic supply business, the way British Rail subsidised the development of the APT, now honoured as a locus of technical innovations.(Our local privatised rail company skimped on staff training and regularly cancelled trains at short notice because they did n’t have any drivers.There are such things as economies of scale.What is the popularity rating of Rail Renationalisation? Circa 70% is n’t it?).
    Although a mere poetry loving Arts graduate, I would have thought there was no problem with intermittent electricity supply: you’re supposed to feed your solar current into the grid ( and get paid for it by a feed -in tariff).The managers of the grid keep the national supply at a constant level ,using the range of sources.
    I would have thought that admirers of decentralised capitalism might welcome the opportunity to decentralise the energy supply and provide feed-in income.But no! When push comes to shove, your standard right -wing blowhard stands by the big monopolies. I remember when I defended small shops against Tesco’s on this blog.The Tescophilia was universal and intemperate in language!

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